[Fresh on 4K] ‘PAN’S LABYRINTH’ an adult fairy tale worth keeping around

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Connor Bynum // Film Critic

PAN’S LABYRINTH (2006)

Rated R, 118 minutes.
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Cast: Ivana BaqueroAriadna GilSergi López, Maribel Verdú, Roger Casamajor and Doug Jones
Available today on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.

Oscar-winning director Guillermo del Toro is unquestionably known for his unique take on fantasy films with a dark adult-oriented perspective. For many, PAN’S LABYRINTH was the film that put the acclaimed auteur on the map. Now that it’s available on 4KUHD, it’s the perfect time to revisit del Toro’s masterpiece.

Movie Grade: A

Taking place in a civil war laden Spain in 1944, the film centers on Ofelia (Ivana Baquero), a young girl obsessed with fairy tales and make-believe. She is forced to live in the same home as a sinister military Captain (Sergi López), who intends to marry her pregnant mother (Maribel Verdú). Ofelia soon comes into contact with a magical creature, known as Fauno (Doug Jones), who insists she is the reincarnation of the princess of a mystical world and must carry out three tasks before she can claim her throne.

This is the kind of film that revels in its own absurdity in the best way. Its presentation of fantasy creatures always remains grounded in reality and never entirely becomes unbelievable. Additionally, the decision to present a mainstream film solely in Spanish in 2006 holds up incredibly well today. Quite simply, this is a wonderful film, and it deserves to be seen.

Video/Audio Grade: B+

PAN’S LABYRINTH was captured on 35mm film, and it arrives on 4KUHD using an upscale treatment derived from a 2K digital intermediate. While Warner Bros has been mostly consistent with their 4K upscales, this one falls somewhere in the middle.

Most of the complaints that will likely land on this disc will be regarding the (unfortunately) aged computer-generated images. Digital characters such as fairies and the giant frog appear separated from their live-action counterparts as if they were covered in a reflective layer of plastic, while the practical elements (the iconic Faun, in particular) look stunningly realistic with the increased resolution. 

Human characters look fantastic across the board. Subtle imperfections in hair, costumes, and props have the clarity one should expect at this point when viewing a film in 4K. Practical sets also look wonderfully crafted. 

It’s understandable that certain aspects of this film simply had to be created by a computer. It’s just too bad that these elements will never hold up as modern movies start to look better. 

Courtesy of Blu-ray.com

The implementation of HDR10 is a most welcome improvement over the standard Blu-ray. The numerous dark scenes rarely have the telltale noise cloud or grey haze, and the contrastingly bright final sequence is as glorious as ever. 

Interestingly enough, while the visuals on the 4K disc offer a noticeable improvement over the 1080p Blu-ray, the audio seems to have taken a step backward. Instead of implementing a Dolby Atmos track, or even the DTS-HD 7.1 MA mix from the 2007 Blu-ray release, this disc only offers a confusingly limited DTS-HD 5.1 MA. Perhaps this was due to compression issues, but such a decision is nonetheless disappointing. That’s not to say the 5.1 mix isn’t good. Plenty of instances where fairies flutter from one side of the screen to the other make playful use of the left and right channels. Additionally, the civil war battle scenes pack a satisfying punch as bullets fly in chaotic directions. 

Extras Grade: C

Other than a director’s commentary track, no extras are included on the 4K disc. The standard 1080p Blu-ray packaged with the re-release is identical to the 2007 release, including the special features. First-time buyers should certainly give these a look, but be prepared for a very low-quality presentation. 

All extras listed below:

  • Director’s Prologue
  • Audio Commentary with director Guillermo del Toro
  • Enhanced Visual Commentary
  • Featurettes – “The Power of Myth”, “Pan and the Fairies”, “The Color and the Shape”, and “The Melody Echoes the Fairy Tale”
  • The Director’s Notebook – “Del Toro’s Notes and Sketches”, “Storyboard / Thumbnail Compares”, “VFX Plate Comparison”, and “Galleries”
  • The Charlie Rose Show featuring Guillermo del Toro, Alfonso Cuarón, and Alejandro Iñárritu
  • Comics – “The Giant Toad”, “The Fairies”, “Pan”, and “The Pale Man”
  • Marketing Campaign – Theatrical Teaser, Trailer, and TV Spots

Final Grade: B+

PAN’S LABYRINTH is a beautiful film that, in spite of a few flaws, has never looked better. 

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